By Rep. Kim Moser and Sen. Ralph Alvarado
Students, educators, health advocates and business leaders are urging the legislature in 2019 to make all Kentucky school districts tobacco-free. As health professionals and lawmakers, we believe this is the sensible approach to protecting our kids from tobacco exposure. Now is also the right time to enact this law, given the recent proliferation of vaping and e-cigarette use among adolescents and teens.
We urge our colleagues to support House Bill 11 and Senate Bill 27, which would make tobacco-free schools a statewide law. The bills would prohibit the use of all tobacco products on, and in, property owned by the school district at all times. The bills require signage to be posted announcing the policy, but would allow local school districts to determine the enforcement measures that work best in their communities when the law goes into effect on July 1, 2020.
There’s no debate about whether tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure are unsafe for youth. Smoke and aerosol emitted from tobacco products contain cancer-causing chemicals, heavy metals and volatile organic compounds that can be inhaled deep into the lungs and quickly transported throughout the body. The high amount of nicotine in Juul and other e-cigarettes and vapes makes them particularly dangerous for kids, whose brains are still developing. Nicotine reduces impulse control, impairs learning and impacts mood and its effects can be both immediate and long term.
And, of course, nicotine is highly addictive, even more so for those under age 25. Thus, using tobacco products when you’re young greatly increases the chances you’ll still be using them when you become an adult. In fact, 90 percent of adult smokers started using tobacco before age 18.
If we don’t act quickly, the surge in youth juuling, vaping and e-cigarette smoking will erase decades of health progress. Already, 119,000 Kentucky kids currently under age 18 are predicted to die prematurely from smoking. Annual smoking-related healthcare costs total $1.92 billion in Kentucky, of which nearly $590 million is covered by Medicaid.
Kentucky’s youth tobacco-use rates already significantly exceed the national average. In recent months, high school student use of e-cigarettes has jumped 78 percent and middle schooler use has risen 48 percent nationwide. That means, across America today, that one in five high school students and one in 20 middle schoolers use e-cigarettes. Youth focus groups in Kentucky show that we’re seeing a similar surge in both rural and urban areas of the state.
Now that 42 percent of Kentucky school districts have adopted them, there is recognition that tobacco-free schools policies are both reasonable and workable. They protect students from breathing in secondhand smoke and aerosol. They set a healthy example for students by de-normalizing tobacco use at school, where youth spend a third of their waking hours. And, research shows, they reduce teen tobacco use.
-Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser represents parts of Campbell and Kenton Counties in the state House of Representatives. Sen. Ralph Alvarado represents Clark, Montgomery Counties, as well as part of Fayette County.